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Coppertone: Airbrushing Tushes And Tan Lines

Coppertone: Airbrushing Tushes And Tan Lines

It was one of those March mornings that make you wonder why you live in Virginia.

Sky was submarine gray. Wind was howling. Temps were in the 40s.

Like Ireland, without the Guinness.

Then I turned into the Harris Teeter parking lot near the Oceanfront and saw something that made me smile. In that instant I could feel the warmth of the summer sun, the smell of suntan lotion in the salty air.

Parked outside the supermarket was a Coppertone van, featuring the iconic image of the pigtailed Coppertone toddler with the little dog tugging at her bathing suit bottom.

I snapped a picture and posted it to Instagram.

“SPF season is almost here!” 

"SPF season is almost here!"

"SPF season is almost here!"

That image, by the way, was the creation of the late commercial illustrator Joyce Ballantyne Brand. In 1959 she used her 3-year-old daughter as a model for a new Coppertone campaign. 

In an interview with The Huffington Post in 2016, Cheri Brand Irwin joked that thanks to her mother’s famous illustration, she’s been called “The world’s most famous rear end.”

Back to Instagram.

It wasn’t long before one of my pals - scrap artist and Virginian-Pilot alum Sam Hundley, responded.

“Why did they airbrush the butt crack?” he wanted to know. 


I put on my glasses and had another look. Yep. That sweet child had lost her cheeks, the best part of the vintage ad.

It wasn’t long before Sam pointed out something else.

“Not only did they airbrush the butt crack, they destroyed the WHOLE POINT OF THE ARTWORK - to highlight the contrast between the tan skin and the untanned skin. The skin is the same tone.“

I looked again.

He was right. No tan line.

Original Coppertone girl on the left. Current version on the right. 

Original Coppertone girl on the left. Current version on the right. 

Look, I get it. With all the worry about skin cancer, no parent tries for a deep toddler tan.

But a baby’s bare bottom is off limits too?

Welcome to the world of modern advertising where Liquid-Plumbr can feature a bevy of grown-up butt cracks but you don’t dare show a tot's derriere.

As long as they’re airbrushing tushes and tan lines, Coppertone ought to also consider a name change. After all, its moniker suggests something we’re not supposed to crave anymore: bronzed skin.

"Coppertone" made sense in the 1940s and 50s when the company sold suntan lotions. Those creams didn’t offer much protection from the sun, but supposedly helped you get a deep tan. In reality, they mostly moisturized your skin so you wouldn’t peel like river birch after a day at the beach.

Today the company sells sunscreens, to block the sun.

 What exactly is Coppertone trying to sell with that doctored ad?

“Nostalgia,” said my brother, Tom Dougherty, the founder of Stealing Share, a branding company based in Greensboro, NC. 

“They’re trying to sell to you and me, not younger people," he said. "They couldn't sell a product that promotes tanning today. The American Cancer Society and everyone else would be after them.

"They're aiming this at Baby Boomers who have an emotional reaction to that dated picture. They want you to remember the old product, even the smell."

Nice try, Coppertone.

Here's some advice: Leave that little girl and her dog alone. 


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